Saturday, May 06, 2006

Iraqi Actor Lewis Alsamari and Flight 93

NOTE: Scroll down for updates.

ORIGINAL POST Apr. 27, 2006
The Tribeca Film Festival has opened this week in New York. For people who haven't heard of this festival, here's a background:

Actor Robert DeNiro and two associates started the film festival just months after the attacks [9/11] to reinvigorate the Tribeca neighborhood, just north of the World Trade Center. Mr. De Niro was born nearby and has business interests, including a restaurant, in the area.

The Festival opened Tuesday evening with United 93, a film that recounts the events aboard the airplane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers prevented the hijackers from hitting their target. It has been a controversial choice, but Robert De Niro thinks it was also an obvious choice."


The movie United 93 stars Iraqi actor Lewis Alsamari as the main hijacker. I have no idea why they chose an Iraqi actor for this role when none of the actual hijackers were Iraqis. But, that's not what I'm writing about. I'm writing about Lewis being denied a visa to the States to attend the premier of this movie.

I don't know why he was denied the visa. But, he told the reporters:

"I think this was because I am still an Iraqi citizen and fought in the army," Alsamari told London's Evening Standard newspaper. "But that was only because I was forced to." It's a huge let down to Alsamari who fled Iraq to Jordan in 1993 and then to Britain in 1995. He was reportedly granted asylum in Britain in 1998 and said he's about to apply for British citizenship.

"It would be so disappointing not to be able to go [to the premiere]. I have only seen footage and it would have been amazing to be in New York for the premiere," said Alsamari. "I hope that I am not going to have to wait until the film comes out in Britain to watch 'United 93.' It seems strange that I cannot go over for the premiere."


Being in the Iraqi army wasn't an option for Iraqi men. It was part of life under Saddam. So, that's a silly reason for his visa denial. Now, if he didn't have enough documents to travel to the States, then that's a different story.

People have mixed feeling about the movie and its timing. But this guy shouldn't take the blame.

UPDATE I - Apr. 29, 2006
I just came back from watching United 93 at the movie theater. The movie is great. If you lost a loved one on 9/11, you may not be ready to see this movie. For other Americans, it's a must-see movie.

The acting was very natural. The movie documented the unfolded events leading to the hijacking of flight United 93. The director did a brilliant job of putting the audience into those events. From the beginning, you feel like a passenger who didn't know what lay ahead. Then, the audience is faced with a deadly destiny.

When the guys decide to take control of the airplane and say "let's roll," I wondered for a second if they were afraid of death. Living the events on the screen, I thought they knew they'd die anyway. But, that wasn't their main concern. Their concern was not to let the airplane crash into a building. They died while doing what was right.

Iraqi actor Lewis Alsamari did a good job. Hollywood doesn't differentiate between Iraqi dialect and other Arabic dialects. So he went with the Iraqi dialect. That's my only knock on the movie.

UPDATE II - May 06, 2006
The Sunday Times reports:

A BRITISH-based Iraqi actor who plays an Al-Qaeda terrorist in a new film about the 9/11 attacks has revealed how he stole thousands of pounds to help his family escape torture and possible death at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s secret police.

Lewis Alsamari described last week how he transferred £37,500 from his employer, the bookmaker William Hill, into his own bank account so he could pay people-smugglers to help his mother, sister and brother flee Iraq.
Last month it emerged Alsamari had been unable to get a visa to attend the premiere of United 93 at Robert De Niro’s Tribeca film festival in Manhattan. Officially, the US embassy in London would only say that he was late in applying for his visa. But there are suspicions the real reason was that it was tipped off in an e-mail about his criminal record — usually an automatic bar for any foreign visitor.


I doubt the tip part. It shouldn't be hard for the U.S. embassy to find his criminal record after a quick background check as part of the procedure to obtain a visa.

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